Electoral Integrity at the Forefront in the Race for Secretary of State | Government and politics
CHEYENNE — Every candidate for secretary of state considers electoral integrity their top priority, they told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle last week. However, confidence in the current system differs between the four contenders, according to these interviews.
While some believe Wyoming holds high standards for safe and secure elections compared to the rest of the nation, a would-be secretary of state has filed criminal complaints with this office over mail-in voting issues. They each have their own vision of success in maintaining, improving, or redesigning the state’s electoral process.
“It is important that the Wyoming Secretary of State continues to inspire confidence in Wyoming voters in the security of our electoral process,” State Senator and Republican candidate Tara Nethercott said Friday. “There have certainly been national concerns about the integrity of our elections, and there have been allegations directed at the State of Wyoming about how we conduct our elections, all of which are false. “
She thinks Wyoming has safe and secure elections. Others share his opinion.
Incumbent Ed Buchanan says he believes the 2020 election was mostly free of any major fraud. Buchanan initially decided to run for re-election, then reversed course to pursue a judgeship in his hometown of Torrington instead.
Wyoming Senate President Dan Dockstader is another Republican candidate for secretary of state, and he praised Buchanan’s work on election integrity. One initiative Dockstader hopes to continue if he wins the job is to travel around the state to educate and hear feedback from the public. He said he admires the balance Buchanan has struck between ensuring concerns are addressed and respecting the work of apolitical employees who work to ensure ballots are secure.
Dockstader recognized the work of municipalities. He visited his local Lincoln County clerk and said he was impressed with the security system, partnerships with local law enforcement and that there was no software directly connected to Internet. Election results are encrypted and audited.
One of the only things he said he was wary of was the mail-in voting process. He worries that voters turned in those ballots too early and that the ballots are waiting to be read in a space where the information is not completely protected. Docktader said he would guarantee his supervision.
“Wyoming has a good system in place, we just have to make sure they never stumble,” he said.
Other candidates are expressing their distrust of national elections. Some call for major reforms.
Republican engineer and oilman Mark Armstrong promised to fix the system from the inside. He and don’t think the 2020 Albany County election results were handled properly. He filed several public records requests, as well as criminal complaints with the secretary of state’s office, over concerns that the clerk’s office opened and processed ballots without Republican election judges present.
He said he received unclear data from the county clerk’s office and none from the secretary of state, so his claims were not addressed. Armstrong said he couldn’t speak to the rest of Wyoming, but he said his own investigation in Albany County raised his own safety doubts in both the process and the number of votes per correspondence received.
He sees the system as broken and says he wants fundamental change.
“I’ll fix the foundation and they’ll paint the house,” he said. “So if you want a house that’s broken, has a broken foundation, painted a nice color, you vote for the other three.”
Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, the fourth candidate, also sees electoral integrity as the top issue in this campaign. He said he’s not just a lawmaker who started discussing security when there was a vacancy in office.
He was the lead sponsor of the voter ID bill that passed the Legislative Assembly in 2021 and said he has been focused on reforms to the system for six years as a lawmaker. He wants to implement paper ballots, check the vote count by hand and ban “Zuckerbucks”. This is a reference to the reported $419 million that the CEO of Facebook’s parent company Meta, Mark Zuckerburg, has donated to nonprofits for campaign efforts related to the 2020 election.
“We need a strong secretary of state who will protect this voter ID law, and a secretary of state who will advance election integrity,” Gray said Friday.
He also wants to end mail-in ballot boxes, as he said it is alarming that they even exist in the state. Armstrong also wants to see reforms to this voting process, but not by removing the boxes altogether.
Armstrong said he would push for a rewrite of the election code because he says any qualified voter can vote by mail, and he suspects that opens the door to fraud. He wants people to give a valid reason for voting by mail, such as being in the military or being housebound, which he says will reduce the number of residents who won’t go to the polls in person.
He also does not approve of the deadline for the opening of the polls.
“Opening mail-in ballots six days before Election Day means the party must provide election judges to monitor that opening and process those ballots for six days,” Armstrong said. “It’s hard enough for us to get people to sit as election judges and pollwatchers now, and they’ve made it harder.”
Nethercott said she’s not concerned about the abuse of mail-in voting, as has been alleged in other states, though she says it still deserves careful consideration. She said that to her knowledge, there are only a handful of counties in the state that have ever used the drop box system, and those boxes are located in the county courthouse and open during working hours. While there are no shortcomings that she currently sees, she said the Secretary of State’s office must be responsive to the needs of constituents.
A similar approach has been taken by Dockstader. He also said he would lobby against cross-voting. In the 2022 budget session, a bill passed the Senate, but not the House. This would have prevented Republicans and Democrats from switching political affiliations at the last minute to enter the primary of a party of which they were not already members.
“This cross-voting bill needs to be brought back, and I would support it,” he said.
Elections are a key responsibility of the Secretary of State, but the office also has other operational responsibilities and divisions.
Nethercott said that as a practicing lawyer, business owner and member of the Legislature’s Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee, she has extensive experience working with the office of the Secretary of State. state and knows its importance to the Wyoming economy.
It is responsible for providing corporate status for all businesses in Wyoming, which is a source of revenue. She wants to maintain the state’s reputation as an efficient and business-friendly environment and wants to play a role in overseeing corporate securities. She said it can help reduce any commercial fraud.
“And to ensure that the investment companies that operate in our state have the proper regulatory oversight to protect our citizens and also allow them to thrive,” she said.
Presenting the state as business-friendly is a priority for every candidate. But their methods and recommendations differ.
Gray said he wants to ensure there is a simplified filing process for LLCs to support small businesses, as he sees them as the heart of the economy. He added that he led the effort on a bill capping property taxes.
Armstrong said he wanted small business and small government, and both done right.
“I don’t like taxes, I don’t want taxes anymore,” he said. “I want to reduce waste and government spending.”
Other initiatives he said he would take include lobbying the legislature to fund a lawsuit to get the commerce clause back. He would work with the US Department of Agriculture to ensure that ranchers not only have local control over the production and processing of their beef, but to reinstate mandatory country of origin labeling.
The commercial division was a big priority for Dockstader. He sees the state as being in an energy transition and wants to ensure that the state is ready to enter this new world. He said he would cultivate relationships with energy leaders and business owners to ensure they call Wyoming home.
Dockstader said that doesn’t just mean focusing on existing resources like coal and natural gas, but also investing in new forms of energy.
“We have to be prepared to make sure Wyoming leads the country on this,” he said.